A Mail-Order Hope

By: Janelle Daniels



She cocked her head to the side. “Nothing. You’re stuck with me, whether you want to be or not. It would be easier if you’d just accept it.” She paused before adding, “Join me for the scavenger hunt.”

“No.”

“At least teach me how to track. Teach me some skill I can use for the contest.”

He snorted. Did she think he was an idiot? She didn’t need to know how to do any of that stuff. “No.”

“Fine.” She shrugged. She already knew what his response would be. “I guess I’ll have to go up into the woods and figure it out on my own. Shouldn’t be too difficult anyway.” She turned and sauntered off.

His nostrils flared. There were so many dangers out there, she had no idea. Anything could happen to her. “Wait.”

“Yes?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.

There was no way he was going to let her wander around the mountain. The path to his cabin was one thing, but going anywhere else was dangerous. And the worst part was, she knew it. He could see it in her eyes. “Fine. I’ll help you.”

He wanted to hate her for pushing him, but he couldn’t. In fact, as much as he was loathed to admit it, he admired her tenacity.

Her smiled cracked like lightning, and he felt it deep within. “Excellent. Shall we start tomorrow then? I could come to your cabin.”

He should say no. Tell her he’d changed his mind, but he knew she would only go off on her own just to drive him crazy, regardless if it was safe or not. “Fine,” he ground out. “But after this, I don’t care if you hike up the cliff, then jump off. Once I teach you how to be safe out there, you’re on your own.”

Her face sobered, but he could still see the smile she hid shining in her gorgeous green eyes. “I understand.”

One lesson, he promised himself. Then he could rid his conscience of any guilt.





Chapter 3





Bright and early, Belle strode up the mountain trail to Asher’s cabin. It might have been a little too early for most people, the sun just barely risen in the sky, but she guessed he was an early riser just like her. And she intended to spend as much time with him as possible today.

This was her opportunity to crack him, to open him up and make him reenter society. All he needed was a little push. She was great at pushing.

She smiled to herself as she waltzed up his front porch steps and knocked on his door.

He opened it almost immediately, eyeing her for a moment before he opened the door wider. “You’re early.”

“I figured there was no point in waiting. You were up early yesterday too.”

He grunted, then walked back into the house and allowed her to close the door behind her.

“If you’re not ready to go, I can wait.”

“I’m ready.”

She watched him shovel some supplies in a pack. “There’s no rush.” She held up her hands. “Honest. Why don’t I cook you some breakfast? It’s the least I can do.”

He grunted.

Well, wasn’t he reduced to animal language in the morning. She could deal with that. “I’m not sure what that sound means.”

He didn’t glance her way. “It means I’m not sure I want to dare your cooking.”

“Why is that?”

“I don’t want to be poisoned.”

She couldn’t hold back her laughter a moment longer. “I’m not going to poison you.”

“Maybe not on purpose,” he muttered under his breath.

It hit her then… “You don’t think I can cook.” She heard the shock in her own voice. “Of course I can. Why would you think that?”

He didn’t bother denying it, but he did finally glance in her direction, which she took as progress. Even if it was at the expense of her pride.

“You came to marry Ivan; you wouldn’t need the skill.”

“As I told you yesterday,” she said, refusing to feel insulted, “I came to Ivan out of desperation. My family wasn’t wealthy. Some of the other women’s were, but mine wasn’t. We weren’t destitute or anything, but my mother and I did all the cooking. I’ll cook you bacon and eggs that will have your tongue lulling out in surrender.”

His rough chuckle was worth all the sparring. If only she could get him to relax a little more. Perhaps with some food. “Point me in the direction of your bacon and eggs.”

He pointed out where she could find food and pans, then went back to his task. There wasn’t much more speaking after that. Belle didn’t mind it though. It felt nice. Comfortable even.

How crazy was that? Alone with a man in the woods and relaxed? She shook her head as she cracked eggs into a bowl, splashing some milk inside, before mixing them together. Humming, she let her mind wander as she started cooking the bacon.

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